Our job, our work, is to trust our own magic—to trust what we do to have its own magic. Take the photograph! Let taking the photograph do its own work, work its own magic. Do your part, do what is yours to do, and disappear. Get out of the way. Trust the magic of doing your part, of doing what is yours to do, and see where it goes. That’s our work. Our work is doing our work and trusting our work to work its own magic in the world.
I’ve said “see where it goes” in the last two paragraphs. I’ll say it again. We are here to see where it goes. To live toward the best we can imagine and see where it goes. To trust our life to have its own innate sense of direction—to know more than we know—and see where it goes. Seeing where it goes is enjoying the ride. It is understanding that we are on an adventure, the likes of which we could never imagine or believe. We don’t know what’s coming, what will happen next, or what we will do about it. This is the wonder of being alive. We don’t know where it’s going. We have to live to see.
Part of the discipline of photography is being in the right place at the right time and doing right by the moment, by the scene, as it presents itself to us then and there. It’s called “getting the picture.” It is not enough to get an approximate picture, or a reasonable facsimile of the picture. Nothing less than The Picture will do. Our status as photographers depends upon the frequency with which we get The Picture. Once in a while will not do. We have to be more determined, committed, persistent and consistent than that.
I would never take a photo trip if I listened to my feelings, and I would never take a photo if I didn’t. The word is discernment. I know when my feelings cannot be trusted because I’ve lived with them long enough to begin to understand where they come from. Scaring myself is what I do best. I can terrify myself with all the things that could happen if I leave home to take photos far away. I could talk myself into staying in bed for the rest of my life. Bad things happen to people when they get out of bed. I pulled a muscle once getting out of the recliner. See? We should never leave the recliner. And, those are the feelings we have to over-ride in order to get up and do what needs to be done–what needs us to do it. In order to know what that is, we have to listen to another type of feelings. We feel our way into knowing something that we don’t understand, into serving something we can’t comprehend. And, find ourselves doing what is supposed to be done.
We cannot just buy a camera and be a photographer. To be a photographer, we have to take pictures, consistently, dependably, reliably, whether we are in the mood for it or not. To be a photographer, we have to belong to the camera, we have to be owned by the light, we have no life of our own. Our life becomes photography. If you want to be a photographer, that’s one thing. If you want to own a camera for those occasions when you want to take a picture, that’s another. If you want to do anything well, it has to be your life.
Photography is not an after-thought, an aside, something we do in addition to something else we do, like taking a trip, or having a picnic, or going with the kids to the park. We don’t bring the camera along “just in case.” Photography is an attitude, a mind-set, a way of life. We live to take photographs. Everything else is the aside.
Our holy obligation—the categorical imperative for photographers—is to be there when the photograph is there. Which means being there long enough before the photograph is there to be ready for the photograph when it arrives. We are photographers in waiting. We wait for everything, through it all, the sun, the moon, the wind, the rain, and the tourists to get out of the way.